If you are keen to see a western bluebird in its natural Gary Oak habitat on Vancouver Island, you’ll have to go to the Duncan – Maple Bay area for now says Jemma Green, coordinator of Vancouver Island’s Bring Back the Bluebirds Project.
In May The Gary Oak Ecosystems Recovery team announced that the western bluebird was back, and that their recovery is beginning in the Cowichan Valley – the species had been declared ‘extirpated’, or locally extinct, on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands since the mid-90s.
They have established a toe-hold in Duncan-Maple Bay, but it’s unlikely they are going to be seen farther north any time soon. “The population is still very small, and at present consists of six nesting pairs and approximately five unpaired males,” Green reported.
“As we have not released any pairs north of Maple Bay, we don’t believe there are any nesting birds in the Ladysmith or Chemainus area.”
The project has about 300 nestboxes in the Duncan-Maple Bay area, so it is unlikely the bluebirds will start to disperse farther in search of breeding territories until they saturate this core area, she added.
She said it could take years for the population to achieve a stable size, and even more years for satellite populations to establish in other areas in the region. “As the extirpation of bluebirds took about five decades, the re-establishment of the species could take just as long,” she said.
There’s lots bird lovers in North Cowichan can do if they want to prepare the way for their feathered friends. The Duncan-Maple Bay area was chosen for the initial releases as it contains some of the last and best Gary Oak habitat in the region.
North Cowichan has potential, too, but resident bird-lovers will have to help nature along to improve the odds. “If North Cowichan residents want to encourage Western Bluebirds and other native cavity nesters, a lot of work will be needed to restore habitat,” she said.
“Only when these ecosystem elements are restored will it make sense to mount nestboxes and encourage bluebirds to breed in the area.”
In the meantime, there’s still a chance for North Cowichan residents to catch western bluebird sightings, and help them at the same time. “We are always looking for dedicated, long-term volunteers, and as Ladysmith-Chemainus is a short commute from Duncan, we hope to have more folks from that area getting involved with the project this year and in the years to come,” Green said.
Find out more at www.goert.ca/activities/bluebirds/